Tuesday, March 04, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot boys improve as state nears

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers closed the regular season with a conference sweep of Searcy on Friday. The Panthers pulled off a 51-32 victory to secure a No. 3 seed in the class 7A state tournament that begins today in Conway.

The boys’ win was a positive turn of events after what head coach Jerry Bridges felt was a brief stint of not playing as well or as hard as he believes his team is capable.

“We sort of stumbled at the end coming into this game,” said Bridges. “We hadn’t been playing as hard defensively and I thought our defensive intensity looked a lot better this time. Defense triggers so much and I just don’t think these young kids understand that fully. That helps our offense get going a little bit too. We hadn’t done that as well but we did it in this game, so I feel a little bit better going into the state tournament.”

The Panthers trailed 9-7 at the end of the first quarter, but gave up just eight total points over the next two quarters combined. The offense didn’t click right away. Cabot took just a 17-14 lead into halftime, but played shut-down defense in the third quarter while shots finally began to fall.

Senior guard Hunter York hit a pair of 3-pointers early in the second half and the Cabot defense gave up just one basket in taking a 30-17 lead with a minute left in the third. Searcy tried to hold for the last shot, but Cabot forced another turnover. A loose ball was scooped up by Nick Thomas. He passed to York, who hit sophomore Jared Dixon under the basket. Dixon’s layup was just in time, and the Panthers took a 15-point lead into the final quarter of play.

Cabot scored first in the fourth quarter before Searcy went on a 7-0 run to make it 34-24 halfway through the quarter. Sophomore Amaje Young scored the last five points of the run, including a three-point play after a steal that cut the margin to 10.

Cabot regrouped and answered by outscoring the Lions 15-6 over the next three minutes.

York led all scorers with 16 points while Jake Ferguson added 10 for Cabot.

The Panthers will face Rogers-Heritage at 5:30 Thursday at Buzz Bolding Arena. Heritage is the No. 6 seed from the 7A West. The War Eagles don’t bring much size to the table, but does have good guard play, including two excellent outside shooters in Wyatt Kinnamon and Crist Olsen.

“I’m concerned about those two,” Bridges said. “We really don’t want them both to be hot at the same time. That would be bad news. We’re going to have to defend the perimeter really well and see if we can’t have a little impact on that ourselves.

“Offensively we want to get our inside game going. When we play inside-out basketball we shoot a lot higher percentage. They’re not very big, so I feel like that’s an area where we can have some success. We just have to get that offense flowing because we don’t have that one person who’s going to beat you.”